Grayson Perry has recently been in the news because of a work entitled The Walthamstow Tapestry. This is a slight change from the ceramics for which he is better known, a 15m-long depiction of how consumer brands have invaded our lives — a couple of hundred of them - Prada, Pampers, McDonald’s, Sony, Co-op funerals, they are all there, along with a crying “Madonna of the Chanel handbag”. He told the Guardian that "It's almost like a religious fresco celebrating obscure gods and beliefs."
There is something vaguely ironic in Perry's apparent association of Walthamstow with the cult of enbrandedness, as actually what interests me most about the shopping experience here is the way brands do not dominate the shopping culture of the borough to the extent that they do in many parts of the UK. Yes, we do have them, though where the IKEA, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Prada is to be bought on our particular High Street I am not too sure. (Though there is a stall on the market with a myserious supply of Marks and Spencer of a Saturday.)
Still, the actual historical or cultural accuracy of Grayson's work in the context of the specific place it is named after is a tangental note to strike. The Bayeux Tapestry was not about Bayeux, after all, and in general his points about modern life are well made. The comment in his gallery's blurb that "Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, in whose work sentiment and nostalgia sit subversively alongside fear and anger" does ring true, and in fact the choice of name as well as the medium itself owes a lot to Grayson Perry's interest in William Morris, whose tapestries are a very important part of his work, though sometimes unappreciated.
Recently, Grayson Perry was in Walthamstow doing the media round of interviews about his own 'creation'. This is on show at the Victoria Miro gallery. However, I understand the piece was actually made on a computerised loom in Belgium, (Raphael did something similar) rather than in his studio. This, we are told, is still in Walthamstow, though that must make for a long commute from Gloucester, which not always reliable sources suggest is where the Turner- Prize-winning artist has been residing since 2007.
Anyway, it is another thought provoking piece from the artist, who recently had a medal on display at the British Museum as part of the Medals of Dishonour exhibition. This was on a similar theme, called 'For Faith in Shopping'. This medal has a Virgin Mary-like figure dressed in designer labels and carrying a shopping bag, highlighting the UK’s almost religious obsession with high-street spending.
Sadly, the ideas behind Perry's work are often not discussed in depth in the popular media, as they come to be overshadowed by interest in his personal branding as a transvestite. This causes the message of his art to be lost amid media interest, (which he does nothing to discourage), in his personal attire. Dali used to have a similar issue with his moustaches. For those who can't resist it, here is a piece in which he discusses his views on clothes:
[Updated 17 September 2010]